Automation and artificial intelligence are headline-making news topics these days. Google and Uber are both vying to be the first past the post with the commercialized driverless car, and the highly politicized debate over robots replacing humans in the workplace is just beginning. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and Space X, recently commented that automation will soon be so extensive that vast sections of our population will be unable to find work in a new economy driven by machine labor and artificial intelligence.
Artwork by Rania Geraghty
Whether Mr. Musk is right remains to be seen. His dystopian vision of an idle population served by robots and computers may not come to fruition, but the issue of automation still deserves serious attention and analysis.
It is becoming increasingly important for businesses in a variety of industries to conduct a proper assessment of how such a world – which could happen within 10 years according to some experts – will affect their business models and their abilities to develop effective strategies for the future. The rate of technological change in the world will likely only get faster, and successful businesses of the future need to implement a process of continuous assessment of their business models as they plan for an ever-changing world.
So what should you be assessing? Here are a few things to consider:
- People - As automation kicks in, what happens to your employees, many of whom have been valuable and loyal for years or even decades? Clearly, there may be fewer workers needed, but every business should consider helping its best employees develop new skills that enable them to adapt to technological changes and continue making valuable contributions to the company. Despite constant advancements, great people who can add value through innovation and intelligence will be vital to differentiate your company and its business offerings.
- Customers - How will automation affect customers? Will technology succeed in automating the service you provide or the production process you use, thereby rendering your relationship with customers obsolete? Again, perhaps a proper assessment will determine that there are higher value services that can be provided in the world of automation. Companies might also look into researching and developing new products to complement the autonomous process which utilizes expertise in that area.
- Vendors - Will automation negate the need for some vendors and reduce some costs? In many cases, automation can present some cost-cutting opportunities, and the easy answer would be to discontinue the vendor relationship. But this issue should be examined in the context of what else can that vendor provide. How can you utilize a vendor’s expertise to help your company grow or become even more efficient? Vendors often provide human and social intelligence in addition to a service or product that cannot be – at least not yet – fully replicated by a machine.
The Automation Revolution can potentially present as many opportunities and threats as the Agricultural or Industrial Revolutions did in previous centuries, and there will certainly be winners and losers. To navigate the complex issues involved in an automated workplace, businesses should have a strategic plan in place that is updated constantly in response to the ever-changing world in which we exist.
At the very least, you just want to make sure you’re not the last proverbial “buggy whip” supplier left.